Personal Finance

Rich People Spend Their Time Stressed

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Last updated on July 23, 2019 Comments: 30

The American Dream in terms of being wealthy, is to work only four hours a week, outsource your tedious chores to those whose time is worth less than yours, and to put your feet up and relax while being pampered from all sides. With more money, you’ll get there, right?

It turns out that wealth is a predictor (i.e., not necessarily a cause or effect) that people will spend less time on pleasurable activities.

People who make less than $20,000 a year… spend more than a third of their time in passive leisure — watching television, for example. Those making more than $100,000 spent less than one-fifth of their time in this way — putting their legs up and relaxing. Rich people spent much more time commuting and engaging in activities that were required as opposed to optional. The richest people spent nearly twice as much time as the poorest people in leisure activities that were active, structured and often stressful — shopping, child care and exercise.

Commuting, traveling from affordable homes to well-paying jobs, is an activity of the wealthy, and those who are wealthier spend more time doing this than others. Is this what we have to look forward to as we work to increase income and net worth? More stress?

The study mentioned in this article indicates that people assume mistakenly that being wealthy involves playing leisurely sports (like golf, I would assume), watching television and movies on a large, flat-screen television, and receiving massages and other pampering. Is this a stereotypical misconception, or does the study not take into account differences between the wealthy and the ultrawealthy?

Is there a difference between the small company CEO, earning lots of money with lots of responsibility (including stress and commutation) and the very few multi-billionaires that let their money earn more money while they do other things? Is that perception a myth? Even Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are still quite busy running their foundations or businesses. Are there multi-billionaires relaxing on the coast of Mexico without a care in the world?

How Rich People Spend Their Time, Washington Post, June 23, 2008

Article comments

Anonymous says:

you need to define wealthy…

making $100,000 a year is not wealthy. yes, you obviously have more responsibility and therefore more stress if you are working at a job paying 100k+ compared to 20k.

if you are making $500k-$1,000,000 a year in passive income (cds, bonds, etc.) , you can surely live a relatively stress free lifestyle.

Anonymous says:

Why is exercise considered “stressful”? Well, in one sense a resistance exercise involves “stress,” but not in the sense implied in this study. The only way exercise is “stressful” in the sense implied here is if you’re in a boxing ring with the heavy-weight champ, and you know that if he ever lands a punch, you’re toast; or if you’re being chased by defensive linemen and trying to avoid being clobbered; or something similar. If all you’re doing is running on a treadmill, or lifting weights, or jogging, or playing a friendly game of basketball with your friends, then I really do fail to see why this is considered a “stressful” activity.

Anonymous says:

Childcare was categorized as a compulsory non-work activity. It was not included in the leisure activity. TV watching was only used as an example of a passive leisure activity. This isn’t saying that low-income people spend all their free time watching TV!

What the study found was that people mistakenly think they will have more leisure time and less stress if they were richer – ie, does money buy happiness? What they found was that as incomes went up, stressful compulsory activities went up and structured leisure (ie, exercise) went up as well. Rich people do not, in fact, spend all their time playing golf.

Per the study: “The activities that higher-income individuals spend relatively more of their time engaged in are associated with no greater happiness, on average, but with slightly higher tension and stress. The latter finding might help explain why income is more highly correlated with general life satisfaction than with experienced happiness, as tension and stress may accompany goal attainment, which in turn contributes to judgments of life satisfaction more than it does to experienced happiness.”

Anonymous says:


On what basis do you consider my viewpoint to be childish? “Shut off the TV and find the real answers”? Sure I watch TV, but I’ll have you know that I have two degrees, read a ton, write, have a variety of interests, activities, friends, family, a career… and I’m not a slave to money. As they say, nobody was ever on their deathbed having regretted not working another hour. I’m assuming you work and if your company doesn’t need you tomorrow, you’d be laid off in an instant. Do they deserve your extra time or do your family and friends?
Read my blog and you’ll see that my mind has a lot more depth than your simple comment indicates about yours.


Anonymous says:

UH2L is pretty out of touch. Very childish viewpoint. Shut off the TV and find the real answers out there.

Anonymous says:

Could it be the other way around as well? Perhaps the less time you spend watching tv and relaxing, the wealthier you tend to be. Hmmm.

Anonymous says:

It seems to make sense that the rich have worked hard and keep working hard once they reach a certain level as this is necessary to sustain the wealth and lifestyle that they have created for themselves. And sometimes these people become addicted to work and don’t know what else to do with themselves. When people are “stinking rich”, no work is required and leisure is all that needs to be attended to. Plus, I have a feeling that many of the “stinking rich”, (love that phrase), inherited their money and never had to really work. Regardless, rich people could help society more by volunteering instead of working on making more money, (although one could argue that their hard work may lead to more employment for others).

To me, it’s important to not work too much, especially given the disloyalty companies have for employees. I sometimes think about if I had worked X hours extra per week and gotten a promotion, I’d have only improved my raise by Y% but then I would have been expected to work many more hours. So in essence, I might have lowered my hourly wage, (even though I’m on salary), and had less time to enjoy life. Of course, this is easier for me to say since I am single. But even then, I’m not greedy and I can do with less if I have to. So I’m not a prisoner to greed or desire for power. I think many people who work too hard are imprisoned by their quest for more.

I think we can all learn a lesson from people on the lower end of the income scale. Have fun because if life is all work, then what were you working for? If people want to watch TV as a leisure activity, then they should, (as long as they stay healthy and get some exercise too and perhaps volunteer once in a while as well).

Anonymous says:

I think KC and Rachel bring it home. For me, the point of an saving and debt reduction and other money related tasks is to increase my freedom to be able to pursue activities which are more fulfilling and beneficial to society. Watching TV on a regular basis doesn’t fit any of that. Working on a blog or helping someone else get out of debt is ‘work’, but it’s what I want to do.

Without the passion and fulfillment a life of wealth is most likely depressing boring and lonely.

I do agree that there is a warning in there to not focus on amassing the money, but focus on what having money enables you to do.

Anonymous says:

I think Rachel (#2) is on to something. People don’t want hours and hours of leisure as much as they want satisfaction. Sitting in front of your TV every day for long stretches could very well be mild depression!

Flexo, please let me know if you’d like any more ING referrals! Thanks a ton!

Luke Landes says:

Jonathan: They did appear to call child care a stressful leisure activity. That is kind of a strange categorization, but it may have come out of the way activities had to be categorized for the study.

I don’t think the article is saying that people are successful because they spend their time on stressful activities. The article says that one is a predictor of the other, that is, they are statistically correlated. No cause-effect relationship is implied… well, the last paragraph seems to do so, but it doesn’t seem to be supported by the study.

The main point to take away is that people seem to misunderstand the lives of the wealthy. But my question is whether this is also true of the super wealthy.

Anonymous says:

I think the study misses the point. Those wealthy people ENJOY what they do. Buffett and Gates would stop in a heartbeat (in fact Gates has) if they didn’t love what they do. I think rich, successful, busy people would be more stressed if they just sat on their duffs all day watching TV. Success is what drives them – this is their entertainment.

Anonymous says:

I want to make money so that I can get out of debt and then my dream is to be financially free. Not because I am lazy ad want to give up work and spend time on a beach or watching TV, I actually love working. I would just like to feel less pressure financially and give my husband the option to give up his job and start his own business if he wanted to.

Anonymous says:

I know I am missing the point, but did I read that right? This article suggests childcare is a sort of “leisure” activity?! Merriam-Webster suggests defining leisure as “ease”, “at one’s convenience”, “time free from work or duties”. Watching and training my 3 children is a solemn duty, isn’t always convenient after a 40-hr work week, and is never “easy”! 🙂

This article highlights the fact that successful people aren’t successful because of sheer luck. They work hard doing it, and the lifestyle habits that helped them “get there” often stick. More or less common sense, but good article nonetheless.